“You can take pictures of the wishing well if you want.” The thin lady simpered proudly, as if she had just given me permission to view the Crown Jewels. Moments earlier, we had entered her domain, stepping across a worn and scraped-up threshold into the dimly lit interior of the shabby building. The ancient wood floor was bereft of finish, with most of the rough boards popped loose from their original, tightly-fitting, positions. The surface flexed as we stepped into the only room and continued flexing as we walked gingerly, causing our minds to leap quickly back to the signs outside declaring that the owner was “Not responsible for accidents”. Perhaps they were fearful that the floor would collapse beneath our weight and wanted us to be forewarned that there would be no compensation forthcoming. We were already aware of that last part, simply by seeing the condition of the establishment.
We had sped down the highway past the place, headed for home from a weekend of tourist-y activities, a relaxing time away from the hectic pace that our lives seem to have attained recently. The dilapidated sign outside spoke of treasures within and we could not resist the tumbledown shack, turning back to see if there were, indeed valuables awaiting us. Another faded sign informed us that the “famous” crystal wishing well was located here. We went in, but besides finding a frowning and suspicious business owner, found none of the normal items we expected to see. There were no antiques, no housewares from ages past, not even any glassware from the depression era to tempt the foolish investor (a title I will vociferously deny, ignoring the collection hidden in my closet). Old records–you know, those black things that once rotated atop our stereos and blasted forth our music, when the scratched spots weren’t holding the needle in place and causing it to play the same phrase again and again–were scattered on what passed for display tables. We saw other miscellaneous items around the room, but there was absolutely nothing that I would have paid more than a few cents for at any garage sale. I was ready to leave as quickly as my eyes swept the room.
But the lady had warmed up a bit and wanted us to know all about the old place. A famous gangster was reputed to have had a shady business upstairs at one time. I didn’t want to see, fearful as I was of the thought of walking on the floor downstairs, much less of being on the floor above that. She didn’t offer us the chance. She did insist that we view the “crystal” wishing well, merely a rocked-in grotto with murky water almost to the floor level, at the very back of the room. “There’s a fish in there,” she announced proudly. We didn’t see the fish. It didn’t seem smart to throw any coins in the “well” if there was a chance that the fish might be harmed, but she thought that we would certainly want to photograph the well. I reluctantly took the picture and was ready to be away from the depressing place.
The Lovely Lady, by my side, had noticed some items in a dingy counter nearby. By now, the woman was eager to describe her treasures, pieces of crystal which she had adorned herself with copper wire and beads. “They’re so full of energy and inner beauty!” I couldn’t help but think that the opposite was true of the emaciated woman, herself almost lethargic and depressed. Like a flash in the darkened room, a thought occurred to me, and suddenly I understood that we were being offered a rare opportunity. The whole weekend, we had been consumers, obsessed with our own comfort, our own needs. The folks offering what we needed were just there to accommodate us and our every whim. This lady, on the other hand, needed us. She didn’t just need our money, she needed us to recognize her for who she was–a fellow human being, with a longing for respect and acceptance. I looked around and saw the room with different eyes. She was doing what she could to provide for herself and her family, and what was in this room was the result of her efforts. The hand painted signs, the crude “wishing well”, the fish she cared for in the murky water, the decoration on the crystals she was offering, those were all her handiwork, her labor.
My attitude adjustment complete, I inquired if we might purchase one of her crystals. She brightened up and a little of the energy and beauty that she sees in the crystal suddenly seemed to be present inside her. We talked for awhile longer and she invited us to visit the cave up on the hill, which we did. It too, was underwhelming by most standards, but it was hers and she was proud of it. Our admiration cost us nothing at all, but was of great benefit to the young lady. When we drove away just moments later, the broad smile on her face along with her invitation for us to return, were genuine. The sour, suspicious person who had greeted us was gone…all because we recognized her as a person worthy of our esteem.
Miles down the road, as we approached a bridge across one of the many rivers in that area, the Lovely Lady wondered what it would look like from the river’s edge. It may be a different concept to you, but we are, as I have mentioned before, lovers of bridges. Many are actually works of art, simply placed conveniently for us to cross over previously impassable barriers–valleys, rivers, or even deep chasms. I found the access road and we again turned off the highway.
What a refreshing break! Moments after the pavement was left behind, we were walking a dirt pathway beside the river, down into a washout and up the other side, butterflies and dragonflies flitting around us. Then suddenly, as we approached the river’s verge, looking through an opening in the trees, there it stood! The concrete arches soared into the air, supporting the roadway above with grace and with style. Invisible from the road itself, the beautiful old structure provided ease for the travelers who sped past, unawares. An unattractive road and a railing, it was to those who never took time to see what lay underneath. A beautifully designed piece of art and a labor of untold value was what we saw from our lowly vantage point. All because we had taken the time to leave the beaten path and spend a few moments in appreciation of what we couldn’t have seen before.
For some reason, once again, I feel the need to leave you to work out the details of this one for yourself. I could tell you what to think, could wax eloquent about the parallels and the relationships between the two events, but my bet is that you don’t need me to do that. I’m going to trust you to finish the job before you move on to other pursuits. You won’t disappoint me, now will you?
We visited the Crater of Diamonds park a day or two ago and as I stood in that field, I found myself thinking about the old song, “I’m just an old chunk of coal, but I’m going to be a diamond someday.” I’m starting to believe that perhaps it simply depends on your viewpoint. A lot of those chunks we think are still only made of coal are already well on their way to becoming diamonds. You just have to know where to look.
You’ll be better at finding them than I was, I’m sure.
“He has made everything beautiful in its own time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of man.”
“And many a man with life out of tune
All battered and scarred with sin
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters’ Hand”
(Myra Brooks Welch~American poet~1877-1959)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012 All Rights Reserved.